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I’m counting down all the movies released in 2012.  The ones I’ve seen, at any rate.  In what is unquestionably a timely manner.

#60.  The Pirates! Band of Misfits

Was nominated for Best Animated Film at the Oscars.  I thought the film actually had a pretty clever sense of humor at times, but the witty dialogue was too sparsely interspersed with the underdeveloped plot.  Which included Charles Darwin mooning over Queen Victoria, so in retrospect, maybe I’m being a little bit too harsh.

#59.  The Decoy Bride

Like I wasn’t going to watch a romantic comedy starring Alice Eve, Kelly MacDonald, and David Tennant.  The story, on the very slight chance you don’t know, is that Alice Eve is a famous actress (from the film: “You know, they asked 10,000 men to name their ideal partner and 9,800 said Lara [Eve’s character]. Statistically that includes at least 800 gay men. If you’re male and Lara Tyler’s interested in you, she’s the one; it’s kind of a rule. You can’t be happy with Lara Tyler, you can’t be happy with anyone.”) who is marrying David Tennant, a well-known author.  Tennant had set his book on a tiny island in Scotland, so they decide to get married there.  With the slight problem that Tennant never actually bothered to go there to research what the island is like.  Kelly MacDonald plays a local girl, desperate to get out, who, through a totally realistic series of events ends up being a decoy bride to fool the paparazzi, but accidentally gets married.  MacDonald shines in the role, not unexpectedly.  As I think I mentioned earlier in this series, I really hope Eve can break out of playing the incredibly hot love interest, because I’m convinced she can do more.  That said, it isn’t like she’s miscast in the role, and her come hither look is out of this world.  The film felt like it had been chopped up a little too much and (spoiler alert) MacDonald and Tennant maybe fall in love a little too quickly.  And I do think there’s some fascinating ideas in here.

#58.  Bernie

bernie

I felt like this film had a very consistent sense of humor, unfortunately that sense of humor didn’t exactly overlap with mine.  Though it did with John, so consider yourself warned.  We talked about the movie some in our Spirit Awards wrap, so feel free to check that out.  Both of us chose the movie for film of the year, though for me that was more due to the weakness of the other nominees.  I liked Jack Black in the role, it was similar to his other characters, but with a little more depth.  And MacLaine and McConaughey were both pretty solid as well.

#57.  The Hunger Games

hunger games

I’m sure other people have mentioned this, but Jennifer Lawrence is an incredibly beautiful woman, so why the need to turn her into plastic on the posters?  I haven’t read any of the books in the series for whatever that is worth.  And I have seen Battle Royale.  Multiple times.  Actually, I think as an Orientation aide one year at college, I may have forced some first-years (or “freshmen”) to watch the movie.  The comparisons are obvious, of course, and while Battle Royale is the better movie, I think it is also important to keep in mind that the two have some significant differences.  Anyway, again, not having read the books, it felt like the movie bit off more than it could chew.  It introduced a number of different story points which all sounded pretty interesting, but the film just couldn’t adequately explain all of them.  I mean, I love me some The Running Man, so I’m all for movies about dystopian game shows where people have to kill each other.  Having kids kill each other on screen is naturally going to be very difficult to pull off, so while I definitely don’t want to call the film a cop out, I am not certain I loved how Katniss performed in the games.

#56.  Trouble with the Curve

Trouble-with-the-Curve-Poster

I think I spent three innings at a Potomac Nationals game going over this movie with a friend in quite explicit detail, so sorry, any people sitting around me who hadn’t yet seen the movie and who will never read this blog.  It is too simple to call this film a response to Moneyball, but it wouldn’t be entirely inaccurate.  I won’t go into every single problem I had with the movie, as someone who knows a little bit about this stuff, but let me bring up three points.  First, there is no serious person high up in any major league team who would advocate for taking the #2 overall pick in the draft solely based on what his computer tells him.  Second, any team with the #2 overall pick would have extensively scouted prime candidates for the pick prior to two months before the draft.  And third, the odds of someone being considered that high in the draft having  trouble with the curve but no other scout picking up on it AND that player not being exposed to top quality pitching talents at various high school tournaments is extremely small.  That said, I’ll watch the heck out of any baseball movie, and if the movie is about Clint Eastwood being a curmudgeonly scout, with Amy Adams and Justin Timberlake flirting and spouting Orioles trivia, well, it can’t be all bad.  The subplots surrounding Amy Adams (her strained relationship with her dad and her burgeoning relationship with Timberlake) weren’t terribly well-developed, which really is what is holding this movie back more than any issues I had with the depiction of baseball.

#55.  Paranorman

paranorman

My notes on this Best Animated Film nominee read: “Got deep at times, except for story.”  Hm.  I think what I was trying to say is that the plot isn’t really anything to write home about.  Which isn’t necessarily a mortal sin for a film targeted at a wide audience.  But I found the subject matter rather thought-provoking.  The film takes a nuanced look at what it means to be an outcast.  And not just the superficial “oh he wears glasses and likes sci-fi” kind of “nerd” outcast.  I was pretty surprised.  If the story was more interesting, this really could have been a knockout of a movie.

#54.  This Is 40

thisis40

I mean, sure, I’ll keep watching anything Judd Apatow makes.  But it sure seems like there’s been a steady decline in the quality of his films.  I’ve got a few theories why his past two movies haven’t been as good as his earlier output, but I’m not really satisfied with them, and it is a small sample size anyway.  But this one is probably only memorable for Megan Fox being in it (and not being half bad).  I don’t want to say that Apatow has lost his sense of humor, but it seems like maybe in an attempt to make us sympathize with his main characters, he’s lost sight a little bit of what made his TV and films so good.

#53.  The Man with the Iron Fists

ironfists-poster

The first five actors billed in this one are: RZA, Rick Yune, Russell Crowe, Lucy Liu, and Dave Bautista.  Which is probably all you need to know.  I want to make sure to give credit to RZA for his direction.  Many of the fight scenes were strikingly bold and showy without being distracting, a fine line to hold when making a martial arts film like this one.  The screenplay from RZA and Eli Roth was…well…it got us to the fight sequences, so it had that.  The problem, of course, is figuring out how to develop a sensical screenplay while devoting so much time to the fights and to setting up the fights.

#52.  The Impossible

Impossible-Digital-Poster-1080x1584

I was really dreading seeing this movie.  Bad on you, publicity department.  But I ended up seeing the film and liking it more than I expected.  Good on you, publicity department.  I think the subject matter is just tough to watch.  I have no idea, for example, to whom I would recommend the film.  It is kind of depressing and vaguely uplifting.  Naomi Watts was good, but it was clearly a supporting actress performance, in my humble opinion.

#51.  Gayby

gayby

A Spirit Award nominee.  Maybe gets lost a little bit among all the unorthodox ways people are raising kids movies.  But it was actually pretty funny at times.  The character, in particular, were amusing, and I enjoyed spending time with them.  I almost want to argue this set up would have been better as a TV show.  I mean, the characters were better-developed and the writing sharper than the vast majority of first-season sitcoms.  I think it would be pretty doable as a TV show.  Just not sure anyone would watch.

You know the drill.  Oscar nominations out on the 10th, I’m taking a look at the big eight categories.  This time: Actress.

VIRTUAL LOCK

  • Jessica Chastain, Zero Dark Thirty
  • Jennifer Lawrence, Silver Linings Playbook

Zero Dark Thirty isn’t out here yet, and while I can totally appreciate the strategy, it still cheeses me off that Oscar nominations for 2012 movies will be out before the vast majority of people had a chance to see the movie.  I like playing along, you know?  Anyway, Jessica Chastain has a nomination for The Help and seems like a sure bet in this presumably two women race, assuming enough people saw the film.  I thought Lawrence was absolutely fantastic in Silver Linings Playbook and she absolutely deserves to be a front-runner.  She, of course, has a prior nomination for Winter’s Bone and that red dress.

GOOD BET

LIKELY IN

ON THE BUBBLE

  • Emmanuelle Riva, Amour
  • Marion Cotillard, Rust and Bone
  • Helen Mirren, Hitchcock
  • Naomi Watts, The Impossible
  • Quvenzhane Wallis, Beasts of the Southern Wild
  • Rachel Weisz, The Deep Blue Sea

If you have any confidence in predicting this category, you are a braver person than I.  Riva is supposed to be fantastic, and director Haneke is essentially an arthouse cult figure at this point.  The question that everyone is asking is whether enough people managed to see the film in time.  Also, is there enough room in the category for two ladies speaking French?  Marion Cotillard sure hopes so.  I still maintain it is a supporting role.  As Adam surely remembers, Cotillard has an Oscar win for La Vie en Rose.  Having seen Hitchcock, I want to say Helen Mirren is in the weakest position of the lot.  Except, you know, it is Helen freakin’ Mirren, who has nominations for The Madness of King GeorgeGosford Park, and The Last Station, and a win for The Queen.  I haven’t gotten to The Impossible, partially because ugh.  But Naomi Watts is hitting her precursors and had a well-publicized endorsement from Reese Witherspoon.  She has an Oscar nomination for 21 Grams.  I’ve got Beasts of the Southern Wild at home from Netflix.  Wallis is supposed to be quite memorable, but the indie film has had a little bit of trouble navigating the Oscar race, and some people will have trouble voting for a nine year old who, apparently, doesn’t seem like she’s Acting.  The Deep Blue Sea came out months ago, was little seen, and is kind of not good, none of which bodes well for Rachel Weisz.  She did get the Globes nom, but the movie is in the Globes’s wheelhouse.  She’s pretty great in the film, though, which might be the most important factor of all.  Weisz has an Oscar for The Constant Gardener.

DARK HORSES

  • Judi Dench, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel
  • Keira Knightley, Anna Karenina

Count Judi Dench or The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel out at your own peril.  I think the Grouches have had like six different email threads about going to see Anna Karenina, but it just hasn’t happened yet.  The film seems likely to get some technical nominations, so maybe Knightley can squeak through, even without any major precursors.  She has a nomination for Pride and Prejudice.

SHOULD HAVE BEEN CONSIDERED

  • Carla Gugino, A Girl Walks Into a Bar
  • Michelle Williams, Take This Waltz

Some awards season movies just aren’t meant to be Best Picture contenders. You can pick out films that seem like prestige flicks, but as they roll out a common refrain is that the film is just not good enough… but so and so sure is great! These are the performance showcases, a film whose only nomination hopes hinge on an actor or two.

I took a look at some of this year’s performance showcases, most of which totally fizzled down the stretch. But they’re all actually quite good and worth a watch (with one very notable exception).

Fair Game

This is the one whose lack of success puzzles me the most because it’s a darn good film that seems up the Academy’s aisle. A telling of the Valeria Plame affair with Naomi Watts as Plame and Sean Penn as her husband, Joe Wilson, Fair Game does a wonderful job of navigating a complex narrative while demonstrating the absurdities and injustices of the whole ordeal.

It’s also a terrific domestic drama. Plame just wants to be a good CIA officer and stay out of the limelight while Wilson wants to fight back in the media and take on the Bush administration. The result is a strained marriage, portrayed effectively without dialing up the melodrama.

Penn is such a blowhard in real life that I’d never expect him to have a role that allows him to bloviate about the Bush administration without coming off like a blowhard. And yet, he’s great: stubborn but loving, hurt and lashing out but intelligent and calculating. I guess I should stop being surprised by him. I walk into a film thinking about how obnoxious I find the guy and yet he always makes me forget that I’m watching Sean Penn. Watts got more awards attention, though I found her less memorable but still very good.

Fair Game is a great mix of entertainment and message without overdoing the latter. It’s a great example of how to pull off an effective political drama. I’m afraid its lack of awards season traction will consign it to anonymity.

I'm gonna work wicked hahd to get you out of jail

Conviction

If any film had “Oscar bait” written all over it, it’s this one. If it wasn’t based on a true story you might think it was a parody of Oscar films. Hillary Swank plays a single mother who puts herself through law school in order to clear her brother (Sam Rockwell) of a murder he did not commit. This should really be an unbearable cliche of a film but it’s actually pretty good. I don’t think it does anything groundbreaking, but it tells the story coherently and hits the right notes without overdoing the schmaltz.

And here’s the surprising thing: Swank is really good. If I had a ballot, she would have been on it. She’s earnest and sports a Massachusetts accent but doesn’t overdo it. She picked up a SAG nomination and seemed like a decent shot for an Oscar nod up until the end. I would have been quite okay with that. Rockwell is also good, as always. I wouldn’t recommend Conviction over Fair Game or Made in Dagenham, but I think those who rent it during the dreary spring months would be pleasantly surprised.

Made in Dagenham

Sally Hawkins is the star of this one. Literally, sure, she leads the film, but she’s so good. She plays the leader of a group of female Ford sewing machinists who go on strike in 1960s England. It’s one of those films about fighting for what you believe in and daring to dream. And it’s pretty darn good. Once again, not groundbreaking, but very entertaining and effective. It’s the kind of film that leaves you smiling as you leave the theater.

Hawkins steers the film wonderfully. She’s appropriately inspiring when necessary and nails all the rousing lines. This is usually when my eyes start rolling, but her performance and some good writing combine to hit the right, sincere notes. But Hawkins is also great because of her range. She’s not just very good as an inspiring leader, but also as a mother, a friend, and even a jokester.

It’s too bad Hawkins’s campaign never picked up much traction. Miranda Richardson seemed like a better shot for Supporting Actress, at least earlier in the season. She’s also good, but I think her success as Secretary of Employment Barbara Castle has more to do with a forcefully written role that allows her to unleash some zingers on her bumbling male staff.

I would have thought Dagenham could have made some waves in some technical categories as a period piece: Makeup or Art Direction, perhaps. A small plot point revolves around an outfit, so Costume was a definite possibility to the point that I predicted its nomination. Alas, this nice film will be totally missing from Oscar night.

This scene is especially bad

Casino Jack

Kevin Spacey landed a Golden Globe nod for his role as Jack Abramoff. But boy is this an awful movie. It goes for a zany tone like Oceans Eleven or The Informant! but it’s all wrong. Turning the story into a humorous romp undermines the political points it tries to make, not that those points are made subtly or effectively. Furthermore, the plot has trouble unfolding coherently. I didn’t like Spacey at all in this role and Barry Pepper is terrible as his business partner.

I left Fair Game intrigued and spent an hour reading up on the whole affair online once I got home. It felt like I left Casino Jack knowing even less about Abramoff than I did going in and what’s worse is I didn’t care.

Skip it!

Hooray, the movie's over!

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